By Dr. Mercola
An investigation by KHOU-TV, a Houston-based news station, has brought to light some disturbing findings about water quality in Texas -- issues that could easily exist just about anywhere in the United States.
It started with a four-month investigation that analyzed state laboratory tests from Texas water providers, ranging from 2004 to the present.
What they found was that many of the state's communities have drinking water that is contaminated with radioactive particles, some so heavily that it could pose a 1 in 400 cancer risk.
Despite the risks, residents were not warned about the radiation in their drinking water, even when it was above legal limits, and, as KHOU revealed, top Texas officials were actually covering up the contamination to avoid regulatory actions.
Radiation in Drinking Water: How Much is "Safe"?
There are several types of radioactive components that can contaminate drinking water, and each has the potential to harm your health. This includes:
• Alpha particles: Emitted from uranium, radium, plutonium and thorium, alpha particles are a type of ionizing radiation. The federal public health goal (maximum contaminant level goal, or MCLG) for alpha particles is zero, but the legal limit (maximum contaminant level, or MCL) is 15 pCi/L (picocuries per liter). While they can't penetrate deeply into your body, alpha particles can cause serious damage to cells they come into contact with. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
"Some people who drink water containing alpha emitters in excess of the MCL over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer."
• Beta particles: Another form of ionizing radiation, beta particles can penetrate your body more deeply and also may cause cancer over time. The MCLG for beta particles is also zero, but the MCL is 50 pCi/L.
• Uranium: A naturally occurring radioactive element often used to fuel nuclear plants, the MCLG for uranium is zero, but the MCL is 30 mg/L (micrograms per liter). According to the EPA:
"Exposure to uranium in drinking water may result in toxic effects to the kidney. Some people who drink water containing alpha emitters, such as uranium, in excess of the MCL over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer."
How do these substances wind up in your drinking water? Some occur from natural sources in the earth, but others are released from laboratories or nuclear power plants.
As you can see, the EPA-set health goals for radioactive compounds in drinking water are set at zero, because there is, quite simply, no safe level of exposure. Unfortunately, MCLG's, which are based on possible health risks from exposure over a lifetime, are non-enforceable so it is legal for some radioactive compounds to exist in your drinking water.
"The EPA has … set a "legal" limit, which it calls the MCL (maximum contaminant limit) above zero for radioactive materials. That legal limit is the amount of radiation that could trigger enforcement action, and scientists caution that having amounts below that limit in your water does not mean there are no known adverse health effects that may arise."
However, if the levels exceed the MCLs, you are supposed to at least be notified so that you can take steps to protect your health.
As the EPA states:
"When routine monitoring indicates that radionuclideslevels are above the MCL, your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of radionuclidesso that it is below that level. Water suppliers must notify their customers as soon as practical or within 30 days after a violation occurs. Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to decrease risks to public health."
This is what Texas water suppliers should have done, but instead they, with the help of Texas officials, covered up the toxic contaminant levels.
Texas Officials Covered Up Dangerous Radiation in Drinking Water
The KHOU investigation revealed that officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) would doctor reports so that they would not violate federal limits for radiation in drinking water, even though tests performed by the agency showed the water exceeded the legal limit for alpha radiation.
TCEQ reportedly would subtract the margin of error from each test result, making the contaminants appear lower than they really were, and saving water suppliers from being cited with violations. This is despite the fact that the EPA specifically notes that states should not add or subtract the margin of error from test results, a guidance that TCEQ was well aware of (according to e-mails obtained by KHOU).
The practice continued until a 2009 EPA audit, and the state now is reportedly in compliance with EPA regulations. However, if you lived in the Houston area prior to 2008, you may have been drinking water that contained radiation above legal limits.
If you live in Texas and would like to see for yourself, KHOU has set up a searchable TCEQ database of every raw radiation test result for every water system in Texas, dating back to 2004. Unfortunately, this will show the under-reporting that took place until 2009, and even still may not provide a completely accurate picture of how much radiation is in your drinking water because of EPA rules regarding the reporting of uranium.
As KHOU reports:
" … you may actually have more alpha activity and other forms of radiation in your water than what your annual water report states, because of rules set up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Specifically, the EPA instructs the nation's water systems not to include in its "gross" alpha readings the radiation in your water that comes from radioactive uranium, even though uranium gives off radioactive alpha particles. Consequently, uranium readings are subtracted from the raw alpha particle activity you may see reported above, before the readings are reported to you."
Radioactive drinking water is not restricted to Texas, of course. The EPA reports that of the 160,000 public water systems serving the United States, approximately 700 treat water with elevated TENORM (Technologically Enhanced Radioactive Material) levels. Further, the EPA's National Inorganics and Radionuclide Survey(NIRS) reportedly "found large numbers of water treatment plants in the midwestern and southeastern states processing water with radium concentrations in excess of EPA's Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs)."
A Perfect Example of Why it's Important to Filter Your Tap Water
Unfortunately, even if you view your community's annual drinking water report, there could be under-reported or untested toxins present. For instance, over 70 percent of U.S. municipal water supplies have fluoride (a highly toxic poison) added during water treatment, which has been linked to a number of health problems, most notably reduced IQ and immune system disruption.
To put is simply, drinking unfiltered tap water can be a risky proposition in many areas. Between 2004 and 2009, more than 20 percent of U.S. water treatment systems were found to have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet fewer than six percent of these violations were ever fined or punished.
You can get a general idea of what types of contaminants could be in your drinking water by reviewing the following graphic from GOOD (reprinted with permission.) It gives you a look at the five most and least polluted water systems in America (in cities with a population of more than 100,000), and highlights the pollutants that are of greatest concern to your health. Ideally I recommend that you have your tap water tested, whether you have city water or well water, and install a filter in your home for the best protection.
What Can You do to Minimize Your Risks of Radiation Exposure?
First and foremost, if you live in an area with elevated levels of drinking water, be sure you either find an alternative source of water – such as your nearest natural spring – or filter it with a high-quality filter. When it comes to radiation, reverse osmosis is effective at removing most particles from your water.
If you're looking for strategies to help prevent damage caused by radiation exposure, researchers noted in the International Journal of Low Radiation that the most active molecular form of vitamin D -- D3 (also known as calcitriol) -- may offer protection against a variety of radiation-induced damages, including even those caused by background radiation or a low-level nuclear incident, through the following mechanisms:
- Cell cycle regulation and proliferation
- Cellular differentiation and communication
- Programmed Cell Death (PCD)
- Anti-angiogenesis (a process that stops tumors from making new blood vessels, which means they stop growing)
The protective mechanisms are so strong that researchers suggested vitamin D3 should be considered among the prime (if not the primary) non-pharmacological agents to protect against sub-lethal low radiation damage and, particularly, radiation-induced cancer.
Researchers have found that daily intakes of vitamin D by adults in the range of 8,000 IU are needed so your blood levels are in therapeutic range, but an even better option is to get your vitamin D from sun exposure or a safe tanning bed, using oral supplementation only as a last resort. You can find out more about how to use vitamin D therapeutically to reduce radiation damage here. Other practical options include:
Spirulina -- a blue-green algae -- might be another useful alternative to protect against the effects of radiation. Spirulina was actually used to treat children exposed to chronic low levels of radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
According to a scientific review of spirulina's benefits:
"Up to very recently, the interest in Spirulina was mainly in its nutritive value. Currently, however, numerous people are looking into the possible therapeutic effects of Spirulina. Many pre-clinical studies and a few clinical studies suggest several therapeutic effects ranging from reduction of cholesterol and cancer to enhancing the immune system, increasing intestinal lactobacilli, reducing nephrotoxicity by heavy metals and drugs and radiation protection."
But what is it about this blue-green algae that gives it this radiation-protective capacity? Spirulina has a 16 percent phycocyanin content—a blue pigment that is attached to its photosynthetic membranes. Phycocyanin is also a nitrogen storage molecule. The nitrogen atoms can form a complex with heavy metals such as radioactive cesium and stronium, hence "cleansing" these radioactive metals from your body.
Turmeric contains a broad spectrum of water, fat and alcohol-soluble components, all of which may contribute to reducing damage associated with both external radiation and internalized radioisotope exposures. It accomplishes this primarily through reducing oxidative stress to cellular structures, particularly DNA.
Research found in the U.S. National Library of Medicine's database demonstrates that it has significant radioprotective properties, with 23 studies indexed on GreenMedInfo.com thus far.
Of particular importance in selecting a turmeric product is that it be certified organic to ensure it has not been gamma irradiated (ironic?) with radioactive cobalt-60 in the USDA-approved process known as "cold pasteurization." Conventional spices are commonly exposed to as high as 30 Kilograys of gamma radiation, or the equivalent of 990 million chest x-rays worth of radiation. The irradiation of herbs produces formic acid, formaldehyde and unique radiolytic byproducts with carcinogenic properties.
I interviewed Ori Hofmekler for an alternative viewpoint with regard to how you can decrease the risk to your health from radiation. Ori makes some compelling arguments for the use of a high-quality whey protein concentrate to help protect against absorbing radioactive minerals.
One of the reasons for using sweet whey is because whey protein contains all the precursors that help your body produce glutathione, which is one of the best ways to detoxify these toxins. The other reason is it's the highest source of all minerals and trace minerals that exist in nature. It has every possible mineral and trace elements -- including organic sodium -- that your body needs in the most bioactive form.
• Other Herbs and Supplements
In general, the following foods, herbs and supplements may also help support your overall health in the event of radiation exposure:
✓ Kelp and other seaweeds (high in natural iodine)
✓ Zeolites (to neutralize radiation) or bentonite clays
✓ Ashwaganda (an adaptogenic herb)
✓ Fulvic Acid
✓ Reishi mushrooms (strong immune support)
✓ High-dose vitamin C
✓ Coconut oil, which supports optimal thyroid health
✓ Astaxanthin (has some protective function against ionizing radiation)
✓ Chlorella (contains chlorophyll, which will increase your resistance to radiation)